Jim Wallis Raises the Religious Right' Fave Strawman, Again
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Nov 13, 2006 at 03:09:34 PM EST
Jim Wallis is best known for his influential book God's Politics, which advances some progressive evangelical approaches to contemporary politics.  He is also becoming increasingly well known for advancing one of the central frames of the religious right, that somehow there is a "secular left" driving people "of faith" out of the "public square," among other affronts. Unfortunately, Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) picked up this theme earlier this year in a now famous speech in which he sought to articulate a liberal approach to the role of religion in public life.  

To my knowledge, neither Wallis nor Obama has yet publicly described or defined the secular left or a single organization or prominent person in it. Nor have they ever named a single action taken, or article or book written by anyone associated with this mythological bogeyman. Both have claimed that secularists are playing counterproductive roles in the Democratic Party; but neither of them or any of their fans; have ever named a single Democratic leader anywhere in the United States who has behaved inappropriately, and what if anything, happened as a result.

In a recent article at Beliefnet Wallis was true to form, knocking down the secular lefty strawman.

Here is his opening sentence:  
In this election, both the Religious Right and the secular Left were defeated, and the voice of the moral center was heard.
 

Wow. That's quite an assertion. I thought to myself: 'Finally, Wallis is going to help me to understand exactly who and what this mysterious and influential movement really is: the secular left that he seems to equate in significance to the Religious Right -- which is certainly one of the the largest and most influential political and social movements in a century.'

Alas, my hopes were dashed. Wallis did not bother to support his thesis or define his terms. He not only failed to show how the secular left was defeated, he did not even bother to demonstrate that it exists -- or if it does, how it was an actor in the current elections it allegedly lost.

Secular bashing is an old tradition on the religious right, as Chip Berlet recounted here at Talk to Action:

The idea that a coordinated campaign by "secular humanists" was aimed at displacing Christianity as the moral bedrock of America actually traces back to a group of Catholic ideologues in the 1960s. It was Protestant evangelicals, especially fundamentalists, who brought this concept into the public political arena and developed a plan to mobilize grassroots activists as foot soldiers in what became known as the Culture Wars of the 1980s.

A popular theologian named Francis A. Schaeffer caught the attention of many Protestants in a series of books and essays calling on Christians to directly confront sinful and decadent secular culture with its humanist values...

[Evangelical scholar] George Marsden argues that this new focus on secular humanism "revitalized fundamentalist conspiracy theory"... Two leading activists of the Christian right, Gary Bauer and James Dobson, called the battle pitting secular humanists against Christians over the moral foundation of America a "great Civil War of Values".

The idea of a conscious and coordinated conspiracy of secular humanists has been propounded in various ways by a variety of national conservative organizations, including the Christian Coalition (Pat Robertson), the Eagle Forum (Phyllis Schlafly), Concerned Women for America (Beverly LaHaye), American Coalition for Traditional Values (Tim LaHaye), Christian Anti-Communism Crusade (Fred Schwarz), and the John Birch Society (Robert Welch).

By framing this set of claims as a conspiracy to provoke a "Culture War," conservative Christians transform political disagreements into a battle between the Godly and the Godless, between good and evil, and ultimately between those that side with God and those that wittingly or unwittingly side with Satan.

Perhaps Wallis, Obama and others are just unwittingly aping the slogans of the religious right and their allies over the past few decades. Perhaps they are doing something else. But whatever it is, as I wrote earlier this year:

Mindless secular bashing only gives strength to the religious right, and divides progressives and democrats against themselves.

Is Wallis really so intellectually invested in this strawman that he can be reasonably compared with Ann Coulter?

Meanwhile, as Moiv has reported here at Talk to Action, Wallis also attended a high-level antiabortion conference some years ago and signed onto a joint  statement with the likes of James Dobson, Ralph Reed and Fr. Frank Pavone.

As much as I appreciate Wallis' opposition to war and concern for the poor and wider issues of social justice, his adoption of the false, Manichean frame of the religious right, (invented as part of a wide-ranging attack on religious pluralism and separation of church and state), is disturbing, as is his antiabortion alliance with top leaders of the religious right.




Display:
of Wallis and others regarding the so-called secular left is more than tiresome. It is profoundly counterproductive, as people seek to come to grips with difficult matters of understanding the the religious right in particular, and more generally addressing the role of religion in public life.

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Nov 13, 2006 at 03:12:41 PM EST

This is unfortunate. I'd hoped that he would rein in such indefensible claims.... it seems to me this statement is even balder than previous similar ones Wallis has made.

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Nov 13, 2006 at 03:18:58 PM EST
Are either put off or downright angry about Wallis' "defeat of secularism" claim - by my count.

I think Jim Wallis would be best advised to temper his triumphalism and rein in his claims. Otherwise he risks undercutting the considerable good work Sojourners has done.

Given the realities of the "Faith Based Initiative", Wallis could soon find himself out on a limb.

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Nov 13, 2006 at 07:46:34 PM EST
Parent



It seems to me that this has gone far beyond the point of a minor annoyancce.  For Wallis, it's become his major premise for being.  And it's just utterly false.  He's not helping a progressive faith perspective emerge so much as he's promoting a culture war on the left.

It seems to me we need something on the order of a major statement condemning his secular-bashing, and calling on him to recognize the wisdom of America's secular civic tradition, for its benefits to religion as well as to secular concerns.  We need to draft such a statement, and circulate it for signatures from a wide range of individuals and organizations.  (Perhaps just individuals first, to facilitate doing it quickly, but we should really do it with an eye toward gaining major organizational endorsements.)

This nonsense has gone on long enough.  It's time to put a stop to it.

by Paul Rosenberg on Mon Nov 13, 2006 at 10:43:27 PM EST

Yes, Wallis is promoting a culture war on the left. I agree that it's high time for a collective statement on this.

I'm in.

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Nov 14, 2006 at 10:25:47 AM EST
Parent

I'd nominate Frederick to write the first draft.  I'd be happy to chime in and offer suggestions.  And I'd be happy to participate in outreach to gain signatories.

What say you, Frederick?

by Paul Rosenberg on Tue Nov 14, 2006 at 11:12:20 AM EST
Parent

In case Fred is busy, I suspect Dr. Bruce Prescott could do a fine job as well.

The bulk of the work, though, would be in getting significant people ( or orgs eventually, if possible ) to sign on.

But, it would be good to to give a sharper edge to the issue and to hold people to account for their language.

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Nov 14, 2006 at 11:22:15 AM EST
Parent

(If there's something I can do to help.)

Check out Digby today if you want to see more scary "centrist" stuff. No wonder Wallis is a darling of the DLC crowd.  

by Psyche on Tue Nov 14, 2006 at 09:47:48 PM EST
Parent






 - but doesn't this example buttress the argument made by Sam Harris and others that the latitude granted to religious "moderates" serves to enable the extremists?

Otoh, if the statement proposed above is successfully crafted and circulated, might not that serve to the same degree in rebutting Harris's assertion?

(A request to those who might draft proposed replies: please word them to allow signing by non-believing activists as well as Wallis's fellow evangelists.)

by Pierce R Butler on Tue Nov 14, 2006 at 09:21:38 PM EST

I think there are many ways of viewing the relationship of extremist to moderate views. "Extremist" and "radical" are - to begin with - characterizations that have meaning only in relation to preexisting views. "Radical" as compared to what ?

Meanwhile, Sam Harris holds a few possibly extremist views of his own - he says that it may be ethical to kill people because of their beliefs. I disagree. Quite strongly.

I very much agree with your qualifications for a possible statement - both atheists and religious adherents should feel welcome.

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Nov 14, 2006 at 10:41:41 PM EST
Parent


In fact, Sam Harris' spurious screed is a clever exercise in old fashioned anti-religious bigotry. He blames people who are not fundamentalists for the excesses of fundamentalism for the sole reason that they are religious.

Harris's contributions to public discussion of these matters are, IO, counterproductive, at best.

As for a statement about Wallis, it would not be intended to be a statement for or against religion of any kind. It would be a call to end an intellectually dishonest method of public discourse, one consequence of which is to corrode respect for deocratic pluralism, in a way that reenforces the religious right.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Nov 16, 2006 at 05:16:39 PM EST
Parent



The worldview that Wallis reflects when he talks about secular humanists on the left is not only a meme of the Religious Right -- although they have exploited it -- but it is very much part of the worldview among Christian college students with whom I have worked.  For those students, coming to terms with derision and even rejection by some of their classmates is part of moving from late adolescent to young adult faith (in James Fowler's terms, from stage 3 to stage 4).  When their atheist professors or classmates write off Christians as stupid (and college students aren't always tactful), some Christian students perceive this not only as a rejection of their faith but as a rejection of them as human beings.  Even liberal Protestant students are often reluctant to mention to fellow progressive activists that they are Christians.  Stage 3 Christianity is very dependent upon relationships (personal relation to Jesus, connection to the personality of a religious leader, the approval of members of one's valued community).  As students move from dependent to independent faith, they are better equipped to handle challenges to their faith or even rejection of it without taking it personally.

Of course there are atheists and agnostics on the left.  Some of them will be more than willing to tell leftist Christians their opinion of religion whether asked or not.  We witnessed many pie wars on dKos over religion -- some instigated by theists -- before Street Prophets was formed.

The solution for Democrats reaching out to religious voters is not to tell atheists to shut up or to pretend they don't exist, it also isn't to put a Christian veneer over the party, saying "we have [Christian] values too" (which only makes Democrats look like fundy-lite).

Jim Wallis needs to stop pandering to adolescents and grow up.  There are atheists and people of various faiths in the Democratic Party and among the common values we share is fighting for our Constitution, which is supposed to protect religious freedom -- including the freedom to practice no religion --for all of us.

by Rusty Pipes on Fri Nov 17, 2006 at 08:56:50 PM EST

on the nature of Christian and personal maturity. However, I think that this is only part of Wallis' problem.

The problem as a I see it is basic intellectual dishonesty.

The challenge put out by Pastordan, me and others has yet to be answered.  Wallis, Obama and others have yet to name a single Democratic Party leader anywhere in the U.S. at any level who behaves in the ways that they describe.

Let us note that there are also more than a few Republican and libertarian atheists.

Karl Robe is an atheist. And David Kuo has pointed out that the White House political staff regularly referred to the leaders of the religious right on the weekly conference call as "the nuts." And anyone who has ever met a serious Ayn Rand objectivist knows, you are more than likely to be called stupid if seen as religious.  If antireligiosity is such a big social problem, it is curious that those concerned about it never get around to mentioning those folks.

But so far the Wallis/Obama axis has yet to offer a single example of anyone's faith or the expression thereof being suppressed in public life.

Those who  are concerned about the roile of the religious right at all levels of society owe it to themselves to stop the promotion of the false frames of the religious right by their leaders.

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Nov 20, 2006 at 10:22:49 AM EST
Parent




WWW Talk To Action


Cognitive Dissonance & Dominionism Denial
There is new research on why people are averse to hearing or learning about the views of ideological opponents. Based on evaluation of five......
By Frederick Clarkson (5 comments)
Will the Air Force Do Anything To Rein In Its Dynamic Duo of Gay-Bashing, Misogynistic Bloggers?
"I always get nervous when I see female pastors/chaplains. Here is why everyone should as well: "First, women are not called to be pastors,......
By Chris Rodda (4 comments)
The Legacy of Big Oil
The media is ablaze with the upcoming publication of David Grann's book, Killers of the Flower Moon. The shocking non fiction account of the......
By wilkyjr (0 comments)
Gimme That Old Time Dominionism Denial
Over the years, I have written a great deal here and in other venues about the explicitly theocratic movement called dominionism -- which has......
By Frederick Clarkson (4 comments)
History Advisor to Members of Congress Completely Twists Jefferson's Words to Support Muslim Ban
Pseudo-historian David Barton, best known for his misquoting of our country's founders to promote the notion that America was founded as a Christian nation,......
By Chris Rodda (6 comments)
"Christian Fighter Pilot" Calls First Lesbian Air Force Academy Commandant a Liar
In a new post on his "Christian Fighter Pilot" blog titled "BGen Kristin Goodwin and the USAFA Honor Code," Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan......
By Chris Rodda (0 comments)
Catholic Right Leader Unapologetic about Call for 'Death to Liberal Professors' -- UPDATED
Today, Donald Trump appointed C-FAM Executive Vice President Lisa Correnti to the US Delegation To UN Commission On Status Of Women. (C-FAM is a......
By Frederick Clarkson (2 comments)
Controlling Information
     Yesterday I listened to Russ Limbaugh.  Rush advised listeners it would be best that they not listen to CNN,MSNBC, ABC, CBS and......
By wilkyjr (4 comments)
Is Bannon Fifth-Columning the Pope?
In December 2016 I wrote about how White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who likes to flash his Catholic credentials when it comes to......
By Frank Cocozzelli (3 comments)
Ross Douthat's Hackery on the Seemingly Incongruous Alliance of Bannon & Burke
Conservative Catholic writer Ross Douthat has dissembled again. This time, in a February 15, 2017 New York Times op-ed titled The Trump Era's Catholic......
By Frank Cocozzelli (2 comments)
`So-Called Patriots' Attack The Rule Of Law
Every so often, right-wing commentator Pat Buchanan lurches out of the far-right fever swamp where he has resided for the past 50 years to......
By Rob Boston (1 comment)
Bad Faith from Focus on the Family
Here is one from the archives, Feb 12, 2011, that serves as a reminder of how deeply disingenuous people can be. Appeals to seek......
By Frederick Clarkson (6 comments)
The Legacy of George Wallace
"One need not accept any of those views to agree that they had appealed to real concerns of real people, not to mindless, unreasoning......
By wilkyjr (6 comments)
Betsy DeVos's Mudsill View of Public Education
My Talk to Action colleague Rachel Tabachnick has been doing yeoman's work in explaining Betsy DeVos's long-term strategy for decimating universal public education. If......
By Frank Cocozzelli (7 comments)
Prince and DeVos Families at Intersection of Radical Free Market Privatizers and Religious Right
This post from 2011 surfaces important information about President-Elect Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. -- FC Erik Prince, Brother of Betsy......
By Rachel Tabachnick (21 comments)

Respect for Others? or Political Correctness?
The term "political correctness" as used by Conservatives and Republicans has often puzzled me: what exactly do they mean by it? After reading Chip Berlin's piece here-- http://www.talk2action.org/story/2016/7/21/04356/9417 I thought about what he explained......
MTOLincoln (5 comments)
Fear
What I'm feeling now is fear.  I swear that it seems my nightmares are coming true with this new "president".  I'm also frustrated because so many people are not connecting all the dots! I've......
ArchaeoBob (6 comments)
"America - love it or LEAVE!"
I've been hearing that and similar sentiments fairly frequently in the last few days - far FAR more often than ever before.  Hearing about "consequences for burning the flag (actions) from Trump is chilling!......
ArchaeoBob (6 comments)
"Faked!" Meme
Keep your eyes and ears open for a possible move to try to discredit the people openly opposing Trump and the bigots, especially people who have experienced terrorism from the "Right"  (Christian Terrorism is......
ArchaeoBob (8 comments)
More aggressive proselytizing
My wife told me today of an experience she had this last week, where she was proselytized by a McDonald's employee while in the store. ......
ArchaeoBob (5 comments)
See if you recognize names on this list
This comes from the local newspaper, which was conservative before and took a hard right turn after it was sold. Hint: Sarah Palin's name is on it!  (It's also connected to Trump.) ......
ArchaeoBob (3 comments)
Unions: A Labor Day Discussion
This is a revision of an article which I posted on my personal board and also on Dailykos. I had an interesting discussion on a discussion board concerning Unions. I tried to piece it......
Xulon (5 comments)
Extremely obnoxious protesters at WitchsFest NYC: connected to NAR?
In July of this year, some extremely loud, obnoxious Christian-identified protesters showed up at WitchsFest, an annual Pagan street fair here in NYC.  Here's an account of the protest by Pagan writer Heather Greene......
Diane Vera (3 comments)
Capitalism and the Attack on the Imago Dei
I joined this site today, having been linked here by Crooksandliars' Blog Roundup. I thought I'd put up something I put up previously on my Wordpress blog and also at the DailyKos. As will......
Xulon (2 comments)
History of attitudes towards poverty and the churches.
Jesus is said to have stated that "The Poor will always be with you" and some Christians have used that to refuse to try to help the poor, because "they will always be with......
ArchaeoBob (13 comments)
Alternate economy medical treatment
Dogemperor wrote several times about the alternate economy structure that dominionists have built.  Well, it's actually made the news.  Pretty good article, although it doesn't get into how bad people could be (have been)......
ArchaeoBob (5 comments)
Evidence violence is more common than believed
Think I've been making things up about experiencing Christian Terrorism or exaggerating, or that it was an isolated incident?  I suggest you read this article (linked below in body), which is about our great......
ArchaeoBob (7 comments)
Central Florida Sheriff Preached Sermon in Uniform
If anyone has been following the craziness in Polk County Florida, they know that some really strange and troubling things have happened here.  We've had multiple separation of church and state lawsuits going at......
ArchaeoBob (2 comments)
Demon Mammon?
An anthropologist from outer space might be forgiven for concluding that the god of this world is Mammon. (Or, rather, The Market, as depicted by John McMurtry in his book The Cancer Stage of......
daerie (2 comments)
Anti-Sharia Fever in Texas: This is How It Starts
The mayor of a mid-size Texan city has emerged in recent months as the newest face of Islamophobia. Aligning herself with extremists hostile to Islam, Mayor Beth Van Duyne of Irving, Texas has helped......
JSanford (3 comments)

More Diaries...




All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. Comments, posts, stories, and all other content are owned by the authors. Everything else 2005 Talk to Action, LLC.